Things to Watch for in Saints’ Preseason Opener

Starting this Thursday night, the New Orleans Saints will try to fix the 7-9 record that has plagued the team for the last three seasons. New Orleans opens the 2017 preseason on

The Saints begin the preseason tonight and hope the defense will play better this season.

the road against the Cleveland Browns.

If the Saints are going to reverse the 7-9 trend, they have to fix the biggest albatross around their neck—defense. New Orleans has been terrible on defense for a long time now, and that has shown up in its win-loss record.

Each offseason, New Orleans has tried to fix the defense but has been in salary-cap hell due to bad contracts from previous years. Those includes bad contracts with free agents who didn’t worked out during their time in New Orleans.

The Saints’ training camp features 90 players, all of whom are trying to make the team. But some of those players, for lack of a better term, are just “camp bodies.” They have no chance at filling a certain position; they are just there to give the players who will make the roster a rest during the long preseason.

New Orleans needs to have as few camp bodies on defense as possible. There needs to be plenty of competition at each and every position on the defensive side of the ball.

The terrible defense has forced quarterback Drew Brees to have to do too much and win games single handedly. While he is still a great quarterback, he is also 38 years old and has lost some strength in his arm.

You could point out that Brees’ costly contract is one of the reasons that the defense stinks, but no one forced the Saints to make the offer that they did to him. Still, Brees doesn’t have the team-friendly contract that Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots.

Last season, New Orleans was one of three teams to give up more than 6,000 yards on defense, and its offense was one of five teams to post more than 6,000 yards. The Saints were the only club to lose as much ground as they gained, and that is how you go 7-9 for three straight seasons.

That balance applied to more than yards, though. For every gain that the offense made, the defense followed it with a nearly equal loss. The Saints’ offense scored 29.3 points per game, and the defense gave up 28.4 points per game.

Here are a three things to watch for in the Saints’ preseason opener against the Browns tonight:

1. Better pass rushing

The Saints’ defense finished 27th in the league with 30 sacks and tied for 29th in quarterback hurries with 76. That isn’t much pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks when the Arizona Cardinals finished with 48 sacks and the Miami Dolphins finished with 129 quarterback hurries, with both teams leading those respective categories.

New Orleans needs to find a pass rusher this season to help the defense. The Saints gave up 353 first downs and allowed 230 on passing plays. The Saints allowed 91 rushing first downs, tying for 13th in the league, but they were 31st in the number of passing first downs that they allowed.

2. Better pass coverage

Injuries didn’t help the Saints in pass coverage, as it seemed like a new defensive back suffered from an injury each week. Relying on backups and younger players is never what you want in your secondary in today’s pass-happy NFL.

The lack of a pass rush meant that the New Orleans secondary was tasked with covering receivers while waiting for some sort of pass rush to show up. Most of the time, it didn’t show up, of course, and the secondary got burned for major yardage.

New Orleans didn’t take the ball away often in the secondary, with just nine interceptions to tie for 27th in the NFL. But the Saints’ defense struggled with takeaways overall, not just the secondary.

3. Takeaways

Here’s an interesting fact: New Orleans lost the turnover battle in every preseason game last season. The Saints went winless in the preseason and finished with a minus-8 turnover margin.

In the regular season, they didn’t fare much better, finishing with a minus-3 turnover margin with just nine interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. A bad defense and trouble forcing turnovers hurt the Saints last season.

However, a lack of forced turnovers doesn’t mean the playoffs are out of reach. The Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Houston Texans all made it to the playoffs with a negative turnover margin. It is worth mentioning that just the Texans won a playoff game, and that was against the Oakland Raiders, who lost their starting quarterback to a broken leg late in the season.

The New Orleans Saints travel to play the Cleveland Browns today, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. on FOX.